Judge: Oregon shield law doesn’t cover blogger in defamation suit

In a defamation case, a judge for the U.S. District Court in Oregon has ruled that blogger Crystal Cox does not qualify as a journalist and does not get protection under the state’s shield law (ORS 44.510).

Seattle Weekly reported on the ruling Dec. 6.

State shield laws generally protect journalists from revealing sources, among other press protections. The Oregon statute protects any “person connected with, employed by or engaged in any medium of communication to the public” from being required to disclose any sources, unpublished information, papers, or work premises.

Cox, who represented herself, has been dealt a fine of $2.5 million for defamatory statements against Obsidian Finance Group. She claims the post in question was factual and invoked the Oregon shield law to protect her from revealing her source. However, one important exception to the shield law is in cases where defamation has been alleged and the defendant (Cox) uses the information as part of his or her defense.

In ruling that Cox is not covered by the shield law, the judge’s opinion cites the statute’s definition of a “medium of communication”: “published or broadcast in a newspaper, magazine, other printed periodical, or by radio,television, or motion picture.”

The opinion goes on to say:

…Although defendant is a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger” and defines herself as “media,” the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the [shield] law.

However, the shield law (read it in the State Code here) offers this definition of “medium of communication” (emphasis added):

“Medium of communication” has its ordinary meaning and includes, but is not limited to, any newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.

The shield law in neighboring Washington would most likely have included Cox’s activities, according to that statute’s author, Bruce E. H. Johnson.

Cox plans to appeal, according to Seattle Weekly.

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